Transportation of Steel Pipe – Which Method is Best?

Jun 2019

Are you looking to transport steel pipe to your project site or inventory location? This post will discuss transportation of steel pipe and help you determine which method will work best. There are three ways to transport your material; barge, truck and rail. Three key factors to determine which transportation method is best for your project are: how much material you are buying, how far it needs to travel and how quickly you need it. Below, we break down the pros and cons of transporting steel pipe by barge, truck, and rail and outline the different requirements of each.


Transporting steel pipe by barge is the primary shipping method when importing or exporting pipe out of North America. Barges can hold, on average, up to 1500 tons of material. This enables shipment of a large quantity of product at an economical price point. Barge shipments are also used within the USA and Canada to move large product quantities to locations on or near water.

Once docked, the product must then be transported by either rail or truck to the delivery destination. For example, in Canada material is shipped via barge from Quebec to the territories. The barge is met by trucks to carry the product to delivery sites across Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and Yukon.

Steel pipe on a barge


Trucks are the most common shipping method of steel pipe across Canada and the US. In Canada, trucks can haul a payload of approximately 46,000 to 80,000 lbs, depending on the source and destination of the product and the type of trailer being utilized for shipment. Tandem trailers can haul 46,000 lbs payload, triaxle trailers can haul 60,000 lbs. Quad axle trailers can haul a total payload of around 80,000 lbs.

It’s important to be aware of the province(s) you’re shipping within, as varying weight restrictions apply. The majority of the United States has a weight restriction of 46,000 lbs net on state roads, so tandem trailers are the most popular and accessible type of trailers on the road.

Flatbed or step-deck trailers with levels are the safest and most effective trailers for the transport of steel pipe. Since these trailers do not have sides, they allow for better access to the material for loading and unloading. Van trailers and conestoga trailers (sided equipment) are difficult to load with this product and can be easily damaged if loaded with steel pipe.

There are two main ways to load trucks with pipe: strip loading and pyramid loading. Strip loading involves placing the pipe between layers of wood dunnage. This creates space between each layer of pipe, which makes it easier to unload since the forks of the equipment are easily placed between rows of product. Wedges are typically nailed to the wood dunnage to prevent any pipe from rolling off the trailer.

Contoured dunnage can also be purchased to eliminate the risk of rolling pipe. This type of dunnage has semi-circular grooves cut into the wood slabs, which cradles the pipe. After pipe and dunnage is secured, the loads are strapped down with chains or straps to ensure there is no movement of the product during transport.

Pyramid loading is exactly how it sounds. Pipe is nestled in the grooves of the layer beneath it, giving it the look of a pyramid stack on the trailer. This method also requires the truck to be secured with chains and straps. In addition to dunnage, straps and chains, sometimes pipe stakes are required for loading. These stakes are secured to the outside of the trailer to create pillars on the deck, which prevents the pipe from rolling off either side of the truck once straps and chains are removed.

Steel pipe on a truck


Rail transportation is a good option when moving large quantities of pipe across North America, especially in longer lengths, which can be expensive when shipping by truck as they often require pilot cars and permits. There are two types of cars that enable hauling of steel pipe. The first, is a gondola, which is a car with sides that pipe can be loaded into loosely. The second type is a flat car; the base is flat and it has no sides, allowing pipe to be stacked and loaded in layers with contoured dunnage between.

Rail lines are very particular about how rail cars are loaded. It’s important to be aware of the specifications from each rail line regarding to how many straps are required, the length tolerance of the individual pipes to ensure the load weight is balanced and secure, and the height and total weight capacity of the car. Typically the rail cars need to be inspected by rail officials before the cars can be released for shipment.

Steel pipe on a railcar

Overall, the best method of transportation for steel pipe depends on many factors. We hope this post helped you select the best shipping method based on the needs of your project.

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